WASHINGTON -- Earlier in the week, his younger sister helped congressional Democrats sell expanded funding for the State Children's Health Insurance Program. Yesterday, with the White House threatening again to veto the legislation, it was Graeme Frost's turn to take up the cause.
The 12-year-old Baltimore boy, whose family relied on the government-funded insurance program after he and his sister were severely injured in a 2004 car accident, came to Washington yesterday to record the Democrats' weekly radio address.
"If it weren't for CHIP, I might not be here today," Graeme says in the address, to air today on stations across the country.
Popular with the states, the health insurance program, also known as SCHIP, covers 6.6 million children from modest-income families that are not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid. Congressional Democrats, with substantial Republican support, voted this week to cover 4 million more children, at an additional cost of $35 billion over five years.
President Bush, who says the measure expands the program beyond its original intent, plans to veto the bill. Forty-five House Republicans joined Democrats in the 265-159 vote to approve the expansion. Support fell short of the 290 votes needed to override a veto. The Senate vote was 67-29, with 18 Republicans supporting the bill.
Bush has proposed a $5 billion increase over a five-year period. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described a "friendly conversation" with Bush yesterday in which she told the president she was praying that he would reconsider his veto. White House press secretary Dana Perino said Bush told Pelosi, "I'm going to veto this bill, and after that, let's see if we can sit down and come to a compromise."
Graeme, a seventh-grader at the Park School, has a message for the president.
"If I could speak to him, I would say, 'You have to sign this bill,'" he told reporters yesterday during his first visit to the Capitol. "I'm guessing he wants this money for Iraq. Our future isn't in Iraq. It's here."
The blond, bespectacled youth rose at 6 a.m. in his family's home in the Butchers Hill neighborhood of Baltimore yesterday for the trip to Washington.
Earlier in the week, two staffers from the office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had called to ask Graeme about his health care experience.
Graeme and his 9-year-old sister, Gemma, were passengers in the family SUV in December 2004 when it hit a patch of black ice and slammed into a tree. Both were taken to a hospital with severe brain trauma. Graeme was in a coma for a week and still requires physical therapy.
Bonnie Frost works for a medical publishing firm; her husband, Halsey, is a woodworker. They are raising their four children on combined income of about $45,000 a year. Neither gets health insurance through work.
Having priced private insurance that would cost more than their mortgage - about $1,200 a month - they continue to rely on the government program. In Maryland, families that earn less than 300 percent of the federal poverty level - about $60,000 for a family of four - are eligible.
The Senate staffers wrote the script for Graeme.
"My parents work hard and always make sure my sister and I have everything we need, but the hospital bills were huge," he says in the address. "We got the help we needed because we had health insurance for us through the CHIP program. But there are millions of kids out there who don't have CHIP, and they wouldn't get the care that my sister and I did if they got hurt."
Graeme said the recording in a studio at the Democratic National Committee headquarters "took quite a few takes." But Democratic staffers said he finished the job in fewer attempts than some senators.
"One of the pleasures that the speaker and I have is, we submit who's going to give the radio address," Reid said. "And we decided that we wanted, this week, to have a real heavyweight."
Graeme's possibly unprecedented participation in the broadcast - Democratic aides said they didn't know of another time when a child delivered the radio address - continues his family's advocacy for the program. The Frosts came into contact with Pelosi's office through Families USA, an advocacy group that supports the expansion of CHIP.
On Tuesday, Pelosi introduced Bonnie and Gemma Frost at a Capitol Hill news conference. The family plans to join Gov. Martin O'Malley, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin and others at a rally Monday in Annapolis.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.